Engaging Tenants and Brokers in Your Sustainability Initiatives

By Alison Drucker for NEEA’s BetterBricks

A New Normal

At the Bellegrove Building, a medical office complex in Bellevue, another building team leveraged Earth Day to start a dialogue with tenants about sustainability and energy efficiency. After participating in a scoping study with NEEA’s BetterBricks program and implementing changes to their lighting and HVAC systems, owner Henbart LLC convened a tenant meeting to present information about their sustainability commitment. Along with the Coast Real Estate Services management team, they described the improvements that had been made and how the building’s performance compared to its peers. Then, with some “fun facts” like how much energy tenants’ workstations are using, the team generated discussion about the tenants’ roles in making the building more efficient. Fourteen of 16 tenants were represented at the event, many of whom offered up concrete suggestions for additional energy efficiency opportunities.

Our tenants are our customers – building relationships with them is very important to us.  To the extent that we can build these relationships by sharing knowledge toward the goal of sustainable, efficient buildings, we always endeavor to.” – Mark Craig, Henbart

In a third-party managed medical office building where tenants are directly metered and fully responsible for their energy costs, it’s unprecedented for a building owner to take the initiative to bring tenants together in a conversation about reducing utility consumption. But, coming from a property management background, Henbart president Mark Craig sees his role as an owner in a different light. “Our tenants are our customers – building relationships with them is very important to us,” said Mark. “To the extent that we can build these relationships by sharing knowledge toward the goal of sustainable, efficient buildings, we always endeavor to.”

When tenants pay their own utility bills, the economic message is all the more meaningful in engaging them in sustainability initiatives. “Some of the suggestions we provided might require a little more effort from the tenants,” said Robert Shipley, Bellegrove’s chief engineer. “But we tied them all back to saving money. It is just as important to show tenants that this is an economically smart way of doing business as it is to increase their environmental consciousness.”

Tenants were receptive to the team’s ideas for how they could take action to reduce their businesses’ environmental footprints and operating costs. Since the event, the team has noticed a difference in behavior, with more tenants turning off lights and computers and utilizing the building’s recycling program. Besides that, the event created a greater sense of community at Bellegrove: “We received very positive feedback not only on the material we presented, but also on the fact that tenants had the opportunity to meet each other and get to know their neighbors better,” said Mark.

The Earth Day event was originally conceived as a way to kick off a Tenant Advisory Committee, which will meet regularly to discuss a number of topics, sustainability and energy efficiency among them. Through tenant representatives on the committee, the team will present new ideas for ways tenants can modify their operations, while receiving feedback on the best ways to communicate with the broader tenant group. With a tenant base consisting mostly of busy company principals, they know it won’t be easy to secure regular participation from everyone. But, said Robert, “The goal is for the meetings to be fun and engaging so that those who cannot make it to one meeting are enticed to come to the next.”

With these successes under their belts, Coast and Henbart are preparing to hold similar joint events at other properties, and plan to back up the presentation with property-specific facts. At a multi-tenant office building, they’re currently going through the steps of benchmarking energy performance in ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager, then identifying and planning improvements. “The tenant informational meeting will follow these other steps,” said Coast’s vice president and property manager Craig Goldsmith, “because it’s important to go into it having things to show.”

Henbart and Coast both find that these activities are key to sustaining positive relationships with tenants. “Collaborating with tenants and showing them the concrete measures we’re taking to reduce their costs gets them more invested into the property,” said Craig, “and can improve tenant retention over the long term.”

At the same time, by always looking for opportunities to improve a property’s sustainability and efficiency, Coast adds value to its property management services. Just like any other aspect of operations, Robert said, “reassessing the status quo is a good way of doing business.”

To have a real impact, this practice needs to be continual. “The goal is keeping energy and sustainability in the forefront of tenants’ minds over time,” said Robert. “If this was a one-time event, we would see a good initial response, but it would slowly taper off. With a continual process, we can change the overall culture to a ‘new normal.’”

MacDonald -Miller provides preventative maintenance for the Bellegrove Building.  For more information on how preventative maintenance can improve your building’s energy performance, call 800-962-5979 or email energy@macmiller.com

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